Tait relishing big stage after gruelling road to recovery
Leicester v Toulouse
A Heineken Cup shoot-out against four-time winners Toulouse is just the sort of occasion that kept Leicester full-back Mathew Tait motivated through the dark hours as he endured month after month of rehabilitation from a long-running groin injury, his mind focused only on getting fit to experience the sort of encounter Welford Road will stage tomorrow.
No matter the freezing conditions, it will be a high-octane experience, one that offers Tait the opportunity to showcase a talent that was once considered the finest in England.
Tait is still only 26, yet it is eight years since he made his England debut against Wales in Cardiff. He has had to deal with so much strife and doubt since that day that he can only relish the chance to be back in the big time.
A groin injury put him out of action for the best part of 12 months in October 2011 and stymied his attempt to kick-start his fortunes after he moved from Sale to Leicester two seasons ago.
"After a year of not playing, getting an opportunity to play in a game of this magnitude makes the slog of rehab all worthwhile," said Tait, firmly established in the No 15 shirt for the Tigers.
"It's only natural when you are out for such a long while that you wonder whether you can keep going. There were times when I thought that might be it."
Tait would never see a club game as an audition for anything, yet he can't help but acknowledge the fact that such a high-profile outing is sure to attract the attention of the England selectors. It is three years since he won the last of his 38 caps.
"Games like this are close to a Test match scenario," said Tait. "I would love to be involved with England again but I have been out for so long that I just need to be playing well here and the rest takes care of itself."
Leicester have had to tough it out themselves to get to the point where they will qualify for the knockout stages if they win. When they lost the opening match of Pool 2 in Toulouse 23-9, there was a sense they no longer had the resources to match the big spenders from France.
But what Leicester lack in blue-chip signings they more than make up for in grit. That much was evident last weekend when they hauled themselves off the canvas to get a draw against the Ospreys.
Now they have a fighting chance against Toulouse at Welford Road, where Leicester are unbeaten in their past 21 Heineken Cup games.
"Toulouse are a big club and full of world-class players," said Tait. "They've got quality all over the shop. I don't think anyone will need a pep talk for this one."
Too true. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports 2, 3.0